New Sony Reader?

A member of the MobileRead forum has posted some information on the rumoured next generation Sony Reader. The poster quoted a source on the Sony Insider forum who claimed to have discovered two service manuals for the supposed new Readers.  According to this source the models are called the PRS-300 and the PRS-600:

The Sony Reader PRS300

The Sony Reader PRS300

PRS-300: 5″ screen, no touch screen, no audio output, no card slots, ~440MB user partition, 220g.

The Sony Reader PRS-600

The Sony Reader PRS-600

PRS-600: 6″ screen, touch screen, audio output, SD/MS slots, ~380MB user partition, 286g.

As with the PRS-505, it is rumoured that these models do not have a wireless connection or built in light.  Personally I do not find that too much of a problem, especially in light of the Kindle/Orwell debacle.  As the Sony Reader is the market leader in the UK at the moment, wireless probably isn’t a major concern.  Should the Kindle make it to Europe however, it could be a very different story.

Update

Engadget has more details on these models:

If said sheets are to be believed, the 5-inch (800 x 600 resolution) Sony PRS300-RC Reader Pocket Edition will ship with 512MB of onboard memory, PC and Mac support, a battery good for 7,500 page turns and USB 2.0 connectivity. The 6-inch (800 x 600 resolution) PRS600-SC Reader Touch Edition checks in at 0.4-inches thin and boasts a virtual keyboard, doodle capability, 512MB of storage, a built-in English e-dictionary, PC and Mac support and the same battery as on the smaller sibling.

International Digital Publishing Forum – Digital Book 2009 Event

For the past two days, the IDPF have been holding a conference entitled ‘Digital Book 2009′ in New York.  As you would expect, the event has been accompanied by some live tweeting from the conference itself….and some interesting tweets they were too.  Amongst some of the more interesting tweets is news that Sony are working on a wireless reading device.  This could be a very interesting development, particularly considering the delay in the release of the Kindle over here (we haven’t even got v1.0 and the US media is already talking about v3.0!!).  Should Sony get this out quick, it will pretty much own a sizeable chunk of the UK market and make it very difficult for Amazon’s Kindle to compete.

Another interesting revelation was the impact that ebooks have had in public libraries.  A representative from Brooklyn public library has revealed that ebooks have overtaken audio books in terms of issues.  This underlines that despite the common view that ebooks are a threat and not an opportunity, ebooks in libraries have proved to be a popular alternative to other formats.  It certainly doesn’t appear to suggest that ebooks will be the library killer that some people would lead you to believe.

There have been many other interesting developments (like Acrobat export from PDF to the EPUB format) and there are sure to be more to come.  Meanwhile, you can follow the event itself via the Twitter hashtag #idpf09 either on Twitter itself or on the quite wonderful Twitterfall.

Ebooks – It’s All Going On…..

There have been a few interesting developments of late regarding ebooks.  Firstly, there was the announcement by Faber that they would be publishing an ebook that would work on the same principle as Radiohead’s In Rainbows.  The book, entitled What Price Freedom?, will be available for download six weeks prior to the publication of the paper edition and will give readers….

…..the freedom to set their own price, or even download it for free.

Whilst this offer differs slightly from that offered by Radiohead (the download was compressed so there was still a reason to then go on to purchase the ‘hard copy’), it is an interesting development and certainly worth keeping an eye on come the release date.  Although one wonders whether this model will ultimately succeed as there is no actual incentive to own the hard copy, other than for presentation value.

Sony and Google Make Ebook Agreement

Exciting though that news was, today came some even more exciting news.  Google and Sony have announced an agreement that will see all of Google‘s scanned public-domain books available to read on the Sony Reader.  This means that Sony Reader owners will now have access to a further 500,000 books – free of charge¹.  The following is taken from Yahoo! News:

NEW YORK – Google Inc. is making half a million books, unprotected by copyright, available for free on Sony Corp.‘s electronic book-reading device, the companies were set to announce Thursday.

It’s the first time Google has made its vast trove of scanned public-domain books available to an e-book device, and vaults the Sony Reader past Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle as the device with the largest available library, at about 600,000 books.

The scanned books were all published before 1923, and include works like Charles Dickens‘ “A Tale of Two Cities” as well as nonfiction classics like Herodotus‘ “The Histories.”

The books are already available as free downloads in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which works well on computer screens but not on e-book readers. Google will provide the books to the Sony Reader in the EPUB (electronic publication) format, which lets the lines flow differently to fit a smaller screen.

Google spokeswoman Jennie Johnson said the company wants to make the books available as widely as possible.

“Really our vision is: any book, anywhere, any time and on any device,” she said. “We want to partner with anybody who shares our vision of making them more accessible.”

This is really quite an exciting development and really ensures the Reader is a viable alternative to Amazon’s Kindle, particularly as the Kindle relies on books produced in Amazon’s proprietary format (AZW).  Although EPUB formatted ebooks can be converted using special software to enable them to be read on a Kindle, it is a big advantage point for the Sony.  It is especially advantageous given that the Kindle is currently unavailable in Europe and unlikely to be available for sometime due to its reliance on Whispernet,   which is not currently compatible across the region.  At this rate, Europe is going to be a tough nut for Amazon to crack, particularly given the widespread adoption of EPUB as the format of choice for ebooks.

These really are exciting times for the ebook.  As predicted, the format is really moving at quite a pace in 2009 and there is no telling where the format will be come December.  Maybe, just maybe, widespread adoption of ebooks is just around the corner.

1. You can download the software to enable access to Google’s public domain books here.

E-books Competitively Priced?

One of the problems with the provision of ebooks at the moment has been the perception that they are not significantly cheaper than old fashioned paper books.  For ebooks to really take off, there needs to be a significant price differential to encourage people to ditch the paper and take up e-readers.  Curious to find out the actual price difference, I took a sample of 40 books and compared prices between electronic and paper versions.  For the electronic versions, I took the prices from the WHSmiths ebook website (in my experience they have been very reasonably priced) and for the paper versions I used Amazon.  Whenever there was a hardback and paperback version on Amazon, I used the paperback as the comparison.  I also ensured that the same edition was compared to ensure parity between the formats and I used the EPUB standard for ebooks.  A wide variety of texts were compared.  Old and new.  Ficiton and non-fiction. So what did I discover?

Well, overall there was a slight difference in price that was favorable to ebooks.  Overall, the paperbacks totalled £296.74 and ebooks totalled £291.30 – a total saving of £5.44.  Out of forty texts, eleven titles were cheaper in paper format than electronic (27%).  The biggest price difference in favour of paper books was £4.85 (where the ebook copy was £12.76 and the paper version was £7.91).  The biggest difference in favour of electronic books was £1.75 (ebook: £5.24; paper: £6.99).  Overall, the e-books selected were generally under a pound cheaper than the paperbacks.  A very minor saving between the two formats.  In fact, taking the price difference between the formats, ebooks were on average only 13.6p cheaper (total saving ÷ 40).

Clearly pricing needs to significantly improve for ebooks to really take off.  There is a slight saving overall from the purchase of ebooks, but it is very slight at best.  We are certainly not seeing the kind of price differentials that developed with the emergence of mp3s – not yet anyway.  When one paper book edition is selling for nearly £5 cheaper than its electronic equivalent, there is clearly something wrong.  For ebooks to really take off, the price difference should be consistently and significantly cheaper than their paper counterparts.  Until that happens, ebooks will remain on the fringes of the publishing world.  Should this change however, ebooks could really fulfil their potential and breakthrough into the mainstream.

Is this the new Kindle?

The New Amazon Kindle?

The New Amazon Kindle?

Rumour has it that this is the new Amazon Kindle, the follow-up to their first E-book reader (that has still not yet been released in the UK).  The photos were leaked on a mobilereads forum yesterday.  According to the source of the leak, the reader is set to cost $359 (around £250) and is due for a US release on 24th February.  Should this make it onto the market over here, the ebook market could get very interesting indeed.

E-Books in Public Libraries

Having written about my lust for an e-book reader in a previous post, I thought I ought to devote a more substantial post to the merits of e-books in public libraries.  I have to say from the outset, that I am a great believer in e-books in public libraries and I sincerely believe that they should not be restricted to academic libraries (where they are pretty much commonplace).  However, is it really the case that public libraries must develop their e-book capability?

To a certain degree, e-books are already available in almost all public libraries in one form or another.  Many library authorities already have subscriptions to a number of online resources such as the Encyclopaedia Brittanica and the Dictionary of National Biography.  However, although these resources are available to read with an internet connection, they are not fully formed e-books.  Library users are not able to download the resources onto a personal e-reader.  Instead, these resources are available merely as reference materials that the user can refer to.  E-books are different as they can be downloaded and stored onto a digital storage device for the user’s convenience.  That said, these resources do provide library authorities with an indication as to how successful e-books are likely to be.  Once the general public are comfortable using these resources to access information rather than their paper counterparts, it is only a small step towards the standard e-book format.

Certainly it would appear that the foundations are in place.  Although many library authorities have seen an overall decline in book issues, library websites have seen a massive increase in usage.  This is in part due to the increased functionality of many of these websites.  Users can search catalogues, reserve books and refer to online resources through their authority’s portal.  As more users connect remotely to their library service, so grows the opportunity to take advantage of this shift in user’s habits.  Adding online services seems a natural progression given how the way library services are utilised has now changed.  And the biggest online development that could be offered to the library card holder is e-books.

E-books can play a very important role in bringing members of the public closer to their service.  This may sound a little odd.  After all, encouraging people to say at home and access services online would appear to isolate the user even further from their service.  However, for many members of the public, visiting the library is simply not possible.  Housebound borrowers are one group that could potentially benefit from the development of e-books.  Those that reside in rural areas that are miles away from their nearest library would also benefit from the availability of e-books.  This is not to say that the introduction of e-books would instantly solve the problem.  There are various other issues that need to be resolved beforehand.  The prohibitive cost of the necessary equipment for one thing (the Sony e-reader checks in at just under £200).  And not just the cost, computer illiteracy is another massive obstacle that needs to be overcome before e-books can really provide the answer.  Whilst e-books have potential, they are not the magic bullet……yet.

Despite the obvious obstacles, public libraries should seriously consider looking into their e-book provision.  Recent trends have indicated that demand for e-books is likely to grow over the coming years.  Sales of the Kindle and Sony’s reader (the two market leaders) have certainly suggested that this need will develop.  Sony recently revealed that it had sold 300,000 units of its reader since October 2006 and Amazon have struggled to keep up with the demand for the Kindle.  Although the figures aren’t exactly ground-breaking, there is clearly a growing demand for the technology.  Thankfully, many libraries are starting to realise the potential for e-books.  According to one survey:

OCLC’s eContent division has found that three-quarters of academic libraries and half of public libraries that responded intend to increase their collections of eBooks over the next year, in spite of the current fiscal climate. Nearly 300 libraries responded to the survey highlighting key issues in perceptions and usage of eBooks currently and going forward within the UK.

Although the survey indicates significant planned increases in the acquisition of eBooks for both academic and public libraries, other key themes born out of the survey findings provide valuable insights into what is driving usage and collection development in these two key sectors.

A massive 85% of public Libraries responding to the survey indicated that they were most interested in developing fiction eBook collections despite recent research that suggests eBooks are most often used for reference purposes.  Possibly this trend is being fuelled by the growth in take up and availability of eBook reading devices among public library users such as Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s Reader.

Whilst I would dispute that fiction would be a wise area in which to develop e-book collections (I tend to believe that they lend themselves – excuse the pun – to non-fiction), it is encouraging that the potential is recognised.  And not just for e-books, eAudiobooks also have a great deal of potential, particularly in terms of those with disabilities or the housebound.  The key point, however, is that e-books will only ever complement other media formats.  As one commentator put it:

I think you will see a multiplicity of media in future, rather than one medium replacing another. If you look at the history of media in general, when a new medium comes along, it does not usually replace an earlier one; it just adds to it.

E-books will not replace standard books, they will simply be another format with which to share information.  I for one can never envisage the day where ebooks dominate the publishing industry to such an extent that paperbacks become obsolete.  But that doesn’t mean that they should be ignored.

Despite the obvious advantages of e-books, there are still some people who refuse to acknowledge the need for their availability.  A recent piece on ‘The Good Library Blog’ highlighted the difficulty that is faced by the need to develop the library service.  The first manifesto point on this blog provides an interesting comparison with the aforementioned article:

a) The library service is for people and its only purpose is to respond to their needs (currently it does not do this adequately)

I couldn’t agree more.  Libraries must respond to the needs of the people and the growth of e-books suggests that there is a growing need for the library service to cater for these people.  If they do not, they will not be providing the adequate service that the people demand.  There is great potential for e-books to bring members of the public closer to their library service.  It is up to public libraries to step up to the plate and ensure that the needs of the people are adequately met by their library service….and this includes the provision for downloadable e-books.